As I mentioned in my last post, our Drawing in Museums group met in the Luce Center for class this past Tuesday. The Smithsonian American Art Museum had just opened, so we had the beautiful hall to ourselves for the morning. As usual, Paul began the class by asking the students whether or not we wanted a demo and, as usual, everyone replied with an eager “yes.” Not only did we want an excellent example to inspire and encourage us, but we were all especially apprehensive about the new challenge of drawing from sculpture. Many students had never drawn from sculpture before, and were concerned about tackling this task. Paul Glenshaw’s demo helped break down the process into manageable steps, building on the skills we had learned in the first two classes.
Paul first noted that the Luce Center’s sculptures are lined along the back wall. This makes it impossible to view them completely in the round, providing us an extra hurdle to jump while studying them. Not only that, he added, but the Luce Center is also rather dark, making it difficult to fully see all the details of our work as it progresses on the paper. This certainly did not help calm my nerves starting this drawing. However, these difficulties proved to be minor inconveniences, as drawing sculpture isn’t too dissimilar from drawing paintings. The “rectangle” that Paul emphasized in the previous classes – the frame around the painting that guides our drawings and the placement of proportions – does not exist around sculpture. This means that instead of creating a drawing inside a preexisting rectangle, we now have to design a drawing to fit inside the rectangle of our paper. The drawing should make the most of the paper being used: you don’t want a tiny drawing inside heaps of empty space, but you also don’t want to cut off your subject by creating a drawing that’s too big for the space. Paul claimed that a good way to begin creating the proper proportions is to first draw the base of the sculpture. This, he acknowledged, is one of the only times that you can get away with some outlining (as opposed to drawing lights and darks) – it allows the artist to build the drawing by placing landmarks on the paper in relation to the base, as one would with the borders when drawing from a painting.A monochromatic sculpture is essentially a three-dimensional drawing: when drawing sculpture, remember that the object itself is the composition, so setting up the scale is all the compositional work you need.
The fact that we were unable to see the sculptures in the round limited the angles we could work from, but Paul explored the angles we could see before choosing a spot. Viewing the sculpture straight-on is bold, but it frequently contains the added challenge of foreshortening – when an object comes toward the eye and therefore appears distorted and shorter than it truly is in space. A three-quarter view allows the artist to view both the breadth and the width of the sculpture, so Paul settled on this perspective. It’s important to remember that you are not nailed to the floor, Paul reminded us, and it greatly benefits your piece to move around to follow the curves and continuation of the shapes that you’re rendering. Because we were all in the same space this class, Paul was able to continue his own piece while moving around the room and giving individual advice as we started drawing. Paul also gave us a helpful tip for distinguishing forms when drawing from life: using convex lines instead of straight lines reveals which shape is in front of which. For example, the heel of the sculpture’s foot in my drawing, below, is a convex line dipping into the sculpture’s leg; because of this curve, the viewer can see that the heel is resting on top of the front of the leg. This is one instance where using line (rather than strictly lights and darks) can be of value to a drawing.
I’m not thrilled with my final result – I started relying on outlining in some sections and the proportions aren’t quite right – so my initial reaction was to feel as though I took a step backward. With more reflection, though, I realized that I had made significant progress. Translating a three-dimensional object to a two-dimensional surface is more difficult than translating one two-dimensional surface to another, and I managed to complete a rough approximation of the piece. I’m excited to take these skills and lessons to next class, where we’ll draw a new selection of sculptures in the National Portrait Gallery.